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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Strickland's time in the navy

Strickland used naval service to get out of rural Georgia and gain new vocational skills. He primarily describes the time he spent in Hawaii, though his memory appears to be a little mistaken. He says that while he was there, Admiral McCain and Admiral Porter both came to review the fleet. The McCain he mentions was probably John S. McCain, who did not become an admiral until 1943. Admiral Porter was an important leader during the Civil War who had died sometime before.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LU ANN JONES:
Did all of you children work on the farm? Did your sisters work on the farm as well as you and your brothers?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
That's right. When we were young coming along, we all worked on the farm. My oldest brother went over to Augusta to the Academy of Richmond County. My Aunt Lula Maxwell—she was a wealthy woman, and all that lived in Augusta—when Lee was sixteen years old, he went over there and went to school with Allen Maxwell, my first cousin, Aunt Lula's son, at the Academy of Richmond County. He finished that, and he went to Southern Shorthand Business College in Atlanta, and finished there. My brother Lee, the oldest one, he's about the only one that's got a college education. I got a grade school education. I finished in eighth grade is all I finished when I was seventeen years old. I quit the farm, quit the school and started doing something else. I went off and joined the Navy to begin with. I put four years in the Navy. After that, I come here, and got a job.
LU ANN JONES:
Why did you decide to join the Navy?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
I didn't have anything to do, and I didn't want to farm. That farm was pretty hard, tough work back them days. I got tired of the country, and tired of the farm. I wanted to go out and see the world, so I joined the Navy. Took my training up here in Norfolk, Virginia.
LU ANN JONES:
That's pretty near where
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Hampton Roads, that's where I joined the Navy in 1923 and was paid off December 26, 1926. I put four years in the Navy. I took my boot training in Hampton Roads. I went to that burning school in Philadelphia Navy Yard. I was on a brick-testing outfit for about eighteen months testing fire brick for the Bureau of Navigation. When I was transferred from that testing plant there in Philadelphia, I was put aboard that U.S.S. Cincinnati. That was a scout cruiser, that was between a destroyer and a battleship.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you like the Navy?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Oh yeah, I sure did. I joined the Navy as a third class fireman. When I was paid off, I was paid off as second class petty officer, second class ward attendant. Done right well. I had a good time, never was on report, never was up to the mast a single time, made a good mark and a good record. I got a honorable discharge setting in yonder now to show for every bit of it.
LU ANN JONES:
What were some of the places you were stationed, or where did you go?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
When we went on board that Cincinnati, we went on a shake down cruise, first trip I ever made at sea. We went from New York to New Orleans to that Mardi Gras. They had a Mardi Gras down in New Orleans. U.S.S. Cincinnati and her sister ship, U.S.S. Concord, two American cruisers, and two British cruisers was down there for that Mardi Gras in 1924 was when that was. Visit that Mardi Gras and all that. After that, we went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We called that the southern drill ground. We took all of that rifle target practice, torpedo practice and all that stuff. After that, we made a cruise the first of 1925. We went through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean. They had that mimic warfare. The year 1925, we stayed out around those Hawaiian Islands all that year in a mimic, both fleets. That was way before Pearl Harbor, and they had all those old battleships was in commission. We had an Admiral, Admiral McCain was aboard that Cincinnati. We had Admiral Porter. All those old battleships passed—he was Admiral of the fleet—they passed in review. The Arkansas, and all those, Texas, and the Oklahoma, and the California, the S.S. Washington, all those old battleships, they were in commission and on that maneuver. There was the Atlantic and the Pacific fleet; it was a combined maneuver in that mimic warfare. All of them maneuvering all around those Hawaiian Islands. We'd go out for a week on maneuvers and have practice and all that. Course, there's a whole lot of that. It's the high admirals, those observers. I was ward attendant, and I'd stand my steaming ward and going top side. I didn't know what was going on a whole lot of the time, but that higher up, that Admiral, they knew what was going on.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you get to visit the islands?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Yeah, we gave liberty on five of the islands. Let's see if I can remember it. Oahua. That's the city of Honolulu is on it. It's ninety miles around that island. Then we gave Oahu and and I can't remember the other two. The Leopard Islands, There's another one. It escapes me. I can't recall it.
LU ANN JONES:
I think it's amazing that you remember.
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Sometimes I have a slight mental lapse. I'm seventy-seven years old now. There's five of those islands we gave liberty on.
LU ANN JONES:
What did you think of those?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Oh fine, fine. We just gave liberty there in Hilo, Hilo. That's the one the volcano's on. The volcano's on Hilo. Us sailors, we charted one of these little old mini-buses. They tour the islands. We went all through them mountains. That's high country in there. All those old volcano craters, they've got craters all through around in that country there where they had an eruption in past years. We went, took all that in. There's a beautiful, what they call Rainbow Falls; that's the prettiest water falls I ever saw. Now on Honolulu, what they call the on Diamond Head. That's another high range of mountains up there from the city of Honolulu. Going down and look into that ocean, us sailors would stand up there on the side of that mountains and that high cliff, and we'd throw our white hats, throw them off… [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
We left the and went on. There's a Mormon Temple on around there. It was ninety miles around that island. We made a tour, just circling. That Pacific Ocean is the prettiest beaches you ever saw. They got a big Mormon Temple. We walked all around there. I had a camera too. I took pictures of all that stuff. We'd ride through those valleys, look up through those valleys. Nothing but pineapples, just as far as you can see, there'd be them pineapples. They's huge fields of pineapples and then sugar cane too. That's that chief crop down there is pineapples and sugar cane. They got those sugar mills. We went through one of those sugar mills too. That sugar cane grew wile, and those Polynesians, those natives down there, they set that stuff burning, the foliage, the braids off the sugar cane. They took a big cleaver knife, and they chopped that up. They had them little old dinky railroads. They'd put that sugar cane on those dinkies and they'd take it to the sugar mills, drying the juice and cook it, and made sugar.
LU ANN JONES:
What did your family think of your going away? Were they sad to see you go?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
No, they thought it was a grand experience for me. I wouldn't take nothing for my Navy experience I got in the Navy. If it hadn't been for that, I might of still been down there on the farm plowing the mule. But I did get some real good experience in the Navy. I tested bricks for the Bureau of Navigation for eighteen months, sure did. That's very important. At the time I went in the Navy, they was converting all those old battleships. They were coal burners. They was converting those battleships into oil burners. All those man-'o-war's, they was converting them from coal burners to oil burners. That's the point that they sent a bunch of us boys to that oil burning school. They were having to relign those boilers with those firebrick. They got to withstand a lot of … Commander Norton was in charge of that oil burning school. He put me on a brick testing outfit there. I'd take an oil atomizer and shoot 48,000 btu right against those bricks, that tremendous amount of heat. I had an optical perometer and I'd take readings every thirty minutes, go around and take readings. I'd record—I had a log—I'd record all that tremendous amount of heat and find out at that fusing point where the bricks would begin to melt and give way and melt down. A yard photographer used to come up there and take pictures of the walls after I tried to burn them and melt them down. They'd come up there and take pictures. They sent all that stuff to the Bureau of Navigation in Washington.